Beauty and the Bizarre

London, England Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as was further proven by our adventures of the day.

We began at the Wellcome Collection, a “free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health.” That’s a very contemporary ambition, but for the bulk of its history, the collection of pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) showcased his fascination with the human body and the medical care that was available at any given time. This fascination extended into the macabre and was perhaps not as clinical as it might be.

The assorted oddities and tools of the medical trade would be a standard type of collection in Wellcome’s day, but that day is now subject to some revisionist thinking regarding the assumed superiority of the white elite and its inherent right to own and display bodies and body parts of so-called primitive or indigenous peoples. Embalmed and shrunken bodies have been removed from the displays in recent years, as a wave of cultural awareness has swept the collection’s curators.

The Medicine Man exhibit is being taken down after 15 years, and a new, reconsidered, exhibit will take its place. But in the meanwhile, this is the only museum we’ve ever toured where it argues with itself — as its captions often display the struggle it is experiencing in a new age. It is even reconsidering how some of the art work Wellcome bought was acquired. Meanwhile, Napoleon’s toothbrush, anyone? Or Darwin’s walking sticks? Van Gogh’s only engraving? A bit of George III’s hair?

As the fourth richest trust in the world, the Wellcome Collection is rather well appointed – imaginative, with no expense spared in its other displays on Sight and the Human Body in general (tattooing is now officially in) or in the building itself, which includes a research library and reading room.

As a change of pace, we went to experience one long-lasting 19th century idea of beauty, as passionately expressed by William Morris. A Pre-Raphaelite designer, craftsman and political activist, Morris had a distinct view on the need for beauty in his industrialized times, and was a forceful advocate for the handmade, focused on nature, and known for a romantic view of the medieval age. The Gallery was home to Morris as an adolescent, and is a beautifully preserved building, showing samples of his iconic designs. Even the elevator is not spared.

Senses overloaded with visual assaults — both weird and wonderful — we headed home with a new appreciation for the challenges of museum curators.

Don’s Food Corner

No fish-and-chips yet. No steak-and-ale pie. We hot-footed our expectant selves to the neighborhood pub we found so reliable the last time we were in London, only to find, for the second time this week, that the place was already packed with (loud) revelers at the obscene hour of 5pm. We weren’t able to get in.

Rather than search out another possibly equally packed pub in the neighborhood, we returned to a Turkish restaurant that we had enjoyed during our last visit. They had “traditional” fish-and-chips on the menu, but why risk it? We’ll wait until we can have it prepared by the indigenous people in an actual pub.

For starters we had deep-fried calamari and a mezze platter of hummus, pickled eggplant, and cacik (cucumber in a yogurt sauce). Both dishes were fine with very fresh ingredients.

Jo went on to chicken in a cream and mushroom sauce. I did a shish kebab of seasoned lamb. Again, all was fine, but it wasn’t fish-and-chips.

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